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Braves rally to shock Nats in 11

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Braves rally to shock Nats in 11

In their first seven years of existence, the Washington Nationals lost plenty of ballgames in devastating fashion. They lost on walk-off homers. They lost on walk-off throwing errors. They lost on walk-off wild pitches. They even once lost on a walk-off balk from a guy making his debut appearance with the organization.

But most of those losses, crushing as they felt at the time, didn't carry much weight in the grand scheme of things. Instead of losing 102 games at season's end, they would lose 103.

This, on the other hand, this was different. A blown nine-run lead against a division rival in the first game of perhaps the biggest series in the club's brief history? This was a crushing loss.

"It hurts. It hurts bad," reliever Tyler Clippard said after the Nationals turned a 9-0 lead into an 11-10, 11-inning loss to a Braves team suddenly 2 12 games back in the NL East.

Never mind the fact this was the largest lead blown in franchise history, dating back to the Montreal Expos' inaugural season in 1969. It was the manner in which that 9-run was blown, and the manner in which a game that could have resulted in as stirring a victory as the Nationals have ever enjoyed into as upsetting a loss as they've ever experienced.

And it was the look on Davey Johnson's face as the 69-year-old skipper took the blame for letting this thing devolve into what it did.

"I feel bad," he said. "The guys played hard. It was probably, arguably the worst game I've ever managed in my life. I've never lost a 9-run lead when it was my part of the game to handle the pitching. It'll be hard for me to sleep. I had a worse night than the guys did."

For five innings, this was arguably as great a night as the Nationals had seen in a long time. Behind towering, three-run homers from Michael Morse and Ryan Zimmerman, they jumped out to a 9-0 lead that left the crowd of 34,228 in ecstasy even as a steady rain began to fall.

And with Stephen Strasburg on the mound, has a 9-0 lead ever felt safer?

"Ninety-nine times out of 100, we win that game," Clippard game.

Well, 99 percent is not 100 percent. And as Clippard later pointed out: "Baseball's weird. Anything can happen."

The meltdown began in the top of the sixth, with Strasburg still on the mound. He hadn't been his sharpest all night, and it finally caught up with him when he gave up four hits in a span of five batters, including Brian McCann's home run and Eric Hinske's double off the top of the right-field wall.

"I felt like he just wasn't going after them," Johnson said. "He wasted a lot of pitches. He really doesn't know who he is at times. He doesn't trust his stuff."

Did Strasburg let his intensity level dip at all with a 9-run lead?

"Myself, I'm always intense out there," he said. "I don't like pitching to the scoreboard. To me, it was still a 0-0 ballgame. But I'd say in the grand scheme of things, it can be tough. Obviously you put up a lot of runs early, and you just kind of take your mind out of it for a split second and they get back in it and it gets to be crunch time."

By the time the inning ended, with Michael Gonzalez allowing two inherited runners to score, the Nationals' lead was down to 9-4.

Then came perhaps Johnson's biggest managerial mistake: He summoned Drew Storen for the eighth inning, one day after the reliever made his season debut three months removed from elbow surgery. Storen immediately gave up a hit and a walk, and Johnson immediately emerged from the dugout seeking the ball.

"There's a few things I'd take back," Johnson said, declining to offer specifics. "I mean, I don't even want to go there. But that's my part of the game. Those are my matchups."

Sean Burnett replaced Storen and only poured more gasoline on the fire. He got two quick strikeouts but then allowed four straight batters to reach base, with four runs scoring in the process. Just like that, the lead was down to 9-8.

In the bullpen, Clippard suddenly had to prepare to pitch the ninth inning of a game he never expected he'd see.

"I was ready," the closer insisted.

Clippard, though, had struggled in each of his three previous outings, and he immediately got himself into trouble when he walked Dan Uggla, uncorked a wild pitch and then drilled the .118-hitting Paul Janish in the back. Two batters later, Michael Bourn crushed a two-run triple off the top of the fence, completing an improbable rally and putting the Nationals in a 10-9 deficit that left the entire ballpark in stunned silence.

"I'm a little concerned," Johnson said of his struggling closer. "He was a little wild tonight. He's not wild. He hasn't been wild at all in that role. But it never should have got to a 1-run lead. That's why I say it's my fault."

Suddenly down to their final three outs, Danny Espinosa reignited the crowd and the home dugout when he blasted a 98-mph fastball from Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel into the left-field bullpen.

Just like that, the game was tied 10-10 and headed to extra innings. And just like that, the Nationals found a way to lose on an error, a passed ball and a bloop single.

The top of the 11th began with Uggla rapping a hard shot to third base. Zimmerman made an impressive, lunging play to snag the ball, then pirouetted and fired to first base. The ball was thrown a good 10 feet wide of the bag, landing near the rolled up tarp along the right-field stands.

"I got a good grip on it, and I had to just turn and fire," Zimmerman said. "That was my only shot. I don't want to catch a ball like that and then not even attempt to throw him out. I think that's the play, and I would do it over again if I had the same opportunity."

Rookie catcher Sandy Leon, who had entered the game four innings earlier after Jesus Flores complained of a stiff back, couldn't handle a low pitch from Tom Gorzelanny. That allowed Uggla to take third base and forced the Nationals infield to play way in. Which allowed Janish's blooper to fall in just beyond the outstretched reach of shortstop Ian Desmond and allowed Uggla to score the eventual game-winning run.

The Nationals went down quietly in the bottom of the 11th, and the home clubhouse was even quieter at the end of a 4-hour, 21-minute marathon that ended in crushing fashion.

They had all of 13 hours to contemplate it before they have to retake the field for the first game of Saturday's doubleheader. How do you bounce back so quickly from such a devastating loss?

"Same way we'd come back if we won 3-2," Zimmerman insisted. "It's one game. Obviously it's an emotional game for people watching, and it gets us a little bit. But in the grand scheme of things, it's one game. We show up tomorrow just like we do after every other game."

It sounds simple enough. Whether the Nationals can actually do it remains to be seen.

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Bryce Harper ejected after arguing balls and strikes vs. Rockies

Bryce Harper ejected after arguing balls and strikes vs. Rockies

Bryce Harper lost his cool in the 10th inning on Saturday afternoon after home plate umpire Mark Winters called him out on a strike three thrown on the outer edge of the plate against the Colorado Rockies.

Harper immediately threw his helmet to the ground and got in Winters' face. Winters wasted no time handing Harper his eighth career ejection.

For Harper, it was his second ejection of this season. He was 1-for-4 with a walk and an RBI double on Saturday before he was tossed.

MORE NATIONALS: ROSS BEGINS MINOR LEAGUE ASSIGNMENT SUNDAY

Here is the pitch Harper thought should have been a ball (No. 5):

(Screenshot: MLB.com)

More to come...

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Nats' Joe Ross to begin minor league rehab assignment on Sunday

Nats' Joe Ross to begin minor league rehab assignment on Sunday

Okay, let's try this again.

Nearly a month after Joe Ross' initial minor league rehab assignment was halted due to a setback in his recovery from right shoulder inflammation, the Nationals' starter will now go on another rehab stint beginning Sunday with the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs. He will face the Pawtucket Red Sox in Syracuse.

This is a major step for the Nats' right-hander, who hasn't appeared in a big league game since July 2. Ross threw two bullpen sessions this week, one on Tuesday in Baltimore and another on Thursday in Washington. It was an encouraging series of days for Ross, who last pitched in a game on July 30 with Syracuse. He also pitched for Syracuse on July 24.

Ross is now well on his way to returning, but whether he can build his innings up to come back as a starter is still hard to tell. The minor league regular season only runs through the first week of September, so it's still possible Ross will need to return to the Nats as a relief pitcher.

Manager Dusty Baker shared the latest on that situation before Saturday's game:

"I don't know. That's a question that we're trying to answer now. If not, then hopefully in the playoffs he can be on the team and help us out of the bullpen. Usually, you're only carrying three starters on the team anyways during the playoffs. If he was number four and whoever else or whatever, that makes for a better bullpen. I have hopes that he can at least make it back to that point," he said.

That is all, of course, pending this second minor league rehab stint goes well. Last time Ross felt discomfort and didn't have his velocity quite where he wanted it to be.

Ross starting for Syracuse may give some hints as to who will start for the Nationals on Sunday against the Rockies. Lucas Giolito was lined up to pitch Sunday for the Chiefs and already was a likely candidate to be called up to the Nats. Now that theory has even more legs to it.

[RELATED: Max Scherzer digs down deep to help Nats, shut up Orioles fans]

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A.J. Cole faces Rockies as Nats look for third straight win

A.J. Cole faces Rockies as Nats look for third straight win

Nats (75-53) at Rockies (60-68) at Nationals Park

It's a quick turnaround for the Nationals and Rockies, who pick back up for a 1:05 p.m. first pitch on Saturday afternoon. Rookie A.J. Cole gets the start following his seven-inning, four-run outing against the Orioles on Aug. 22, his 2016 season debut. Cole will once again see a tough lineup, this time with a bunch of lefties including Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra.

Pitching for Colorado will be Jorge De La Rosa (8-7, 5.07). The veteran lefty faced the Nats just two starts ago and gave up four runs in six innings at Coors Field.

Wilson Ramos is back in the Nats' lineup after missing two games. He's hitting sixth behind Anthony Rendon.

First pitch: 1:05 p.m.
TV: MASN2
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - A.J. Cole vs. Rockies - Jorge De La Rosa

NATS

CF Trea Turner
LF Jayson Werth
2B Daniel Murphy
RF Bryce Harper
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
1B Ryan Zimmerman
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP A.J. Cole

ROCKIES

CF Charlie Blackmon
2B D.J. LeMahieu
RF Carlos Gonzalez
3B Nolan Arenado
LF David Dahl
1B Gerardo Parra
C Nick Hundley
SS Daniel Descalso
LHP Jorge De La Rosa

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